Thomas Martindale: saved by a sheep

Thomas Martindale was a few days short of his tenth birthday when he got lost on the Cumbrian fells in 1907.

The search for a drowned pony was to lead to his name appearing in newspapers the length of the UK – and looking into to the story uncovered a curious family set-up.

Saturday, August 3, 1907. A Penrith boy named Thomas Martindale, aged ten, has been lost on the fells near Ullswater since Tuesday and large parties have failed to find him.

The youth was staying at Bampton, near Haweswater, for a holiday and with a companion, went on the moors to find a pony. A mist came on and the boys became separated. 

The story made the news from Aberdeen to Belfast, to the Welsh Valleys, to Cornwall, and to London. 

Young Tom had gone missing on Tuesday, July 27, and was found on Saturday, August 3, but the police weren’t notified he was safe until midnight on the Saturday.

The deadlines of weekly newspapers meant they were reporting him missing about the time he was actually found.

Kept warm by a lamb

Tuesday, August 6, 1907

FOUR DAYS WITHOUT FOOD. PENRITH BOY’S ADVENTURE ON THE FELLS. The Penrith boy. Thomas Martindale, aged nine years, who was on the Fells last week, has been found alive, and in an interview last evening he told a remarkable story of adventure. 

He was lost in a white fog on the High Street Range on Tuesday, and wandered about for many hours. 

At one time, at night, he found himself at a farm in Kentmere. The farmer directed him back over Nan Bield, but did not give him food. 

He found shelter in a cave, and next morning found the mist thick as ever. He wandered all day, subsisting on water from the becks, and at night rested in another cave, where he was joined by a  little lamb, which kept him warm. 

Another day passed without his seeing a house, and he slept in a cattle shelter. 

Friday night was passed in the same place. Saturday morning the boy saw some milch cows, and his knowledge of farming told him there would be somebody coming to them soon. This proved correct, and he was most kindly treated by Mr. Leek, of Troutbeck Park, Windermere. Yesterday, he was taken home. He was four days and four nights without solid food.

A bit of background

The Lakes Chronicle and Reporter gives us more detail (on Wednesday, August 7).

Young Tom was Thomas Victor Martindale – nine, and the son of Thomas Martindale, ‘a Penrith carter’.

He was spending his holidays with John Bland, of High Howe, Bampton, and went looking for the pony with a lad named Vickers Bland.

The search was conducted by PC Fisher, and had looked from Kentmere down to Staveley. Superintendant Notman and Inspector Maver had intended to continue a search on Sunday August 4. But, at midnight on Saturday August 3, the Windermere police were informed of the boy’s whereabouts, and at an early hour on Sunday morning, Inspector Maver telephoned the news to the police superintendant at Kendal.

When found – by Mr Leak’s (sic) son – his clothes were wet through, his legs swollen, and he was perishing with hunger.

He was given tea and bread and put to bed. When he got up, he became ill and was brought round with a drop of brandy. 

Mr Bland was informed and the boy – who had received great care and attention from Mr and Mrs Leak, was restored to his parents on Sunday.

Thomas Martindale, Cumbrian Characters,
An idea of where Thomas Martindale wandered when he was lost

Kind hearts – and a thoughtless one

The Lakes Herald tells us Vickers Bland was John Bland’s son, aged 15, and that the boys had gone to a place called the White Bog, to look for a pony which was reported to have been drowned. They split up to search better, keeping in touch by whistling. 

Vickers Bland had found the pony, about three miles from his home, and stopped his whistles.

When he realised Thomas Martindale was lost, he went home and raised the alarm and a search party set out at once.

Around 20 dalesmen searched on the Wednesday. And on Thursday, they were joined by a party from Helton and Bampton and covered about 40 miles between them, including probing water holes with fell sticks.

Another account refers to a boy cutting bracken on the fells giving Thomas Martindale directions to a house at Kentmere, from where he set off to walk over into the Haweswater district. 

The Coventry Evening Telegraph decided it was Mr and Mrs Leck, at Troutbeck Park. Along with opining that Thomas Martindale was a sturdy and plucky youngster, the Coventry Telegraph also was the first to express something that jumps out from the story:

Namely, that it was a pity the man at Kentmere didn’t take care of him.

The Martindales

The story of young Thomas Martindale’s adventure throws up a puzzle as far as his family is concerned.

Thomas Victor Martindale was born August 24, 1897 (explains the confusion as to whether he was nine or ten when he went missing). Born at Gill Banks, Over Staverly, Westmorland, a birth certificate shows father’s name blank! Mother Mary Jane Mitchell, formerly ? Loosekeepes. The birth was registered by J Martindale, occupier, Gill Banks, on on October 4.

Curious, huh?

The only Thomas Martindale in the Penrith area on the 1901 or 1911 census is the son of a Thomas Martindale – but a shepherd, rather than a carter. 

1911 (Riggs Cottage, Dacre) tells us Thomas (46) and wife Jane (42) have been married 20 years, with 11 of 12 children still living. Jane was born Langwathby, Cumberland.

Rewind to 1901. Thomas (36) is with wife MARY (35), born Langwathby.

Ok, if Thomas and Jane had been married 20 years in 1911, then they married circa 1891.

1891, Hawkshead. Thomas (26), wife Mary (37), born Seathwaite, Lancs. Their son Tyson Martindale was just three months old.

A Mary Martindale aged 37 died in the June quarter of 1891 – in Kendal district. Fits the Mary born Seathwaite and could have been just after the census was taken.

Soooo. MAYBE Mary died in 1891 and Thomas married a Jane almost immediately (to have been married 20 years in 1911). But, then got his wife’s name wrong on the 1901 census.

But why, in 1897, is Thomas Victor’s father’s name missing from his birth certificate?

Go back to the ’12 children, 11 still living’

From the 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses, Thomas fathered 16 children. With two Johns and two Elizabeths.

For Thomas and Jane to have had 12, the first has to be John who is 9 on 1901.

That leaves the 12 as: John, Jane, Ada, Thomas, Elsie, Annie, Edward, Frank, Elizabeth, George. Ethel, Joseph.  

But, there is no 1891 marriage for a Thomas Martindale to anyone.

Did Thomas have children by Mary Jane Mitchell? Well, yes. And it would seem she was recorded as Mary on 1901 and Jane on 1911.

And their children are recorded in the births index somewhat randomly:

Ada’s 1895 birth was recorded as Ada Martindale Mitchell. 1899 Elsie Martindale Mitchell. 1907 Elizabeth Martindale Mitchell. 1908 Ethel Martindale Mitchell. 1910 Joseph Martindale Mitchell.

But, 1900 George Martindale. 1902 Annie Martindale. 1903 Edward Martindale.  1905 Frank Martindale.

The only possible entry for Jane (7 on 1901) is Jane Mitchell, 1893 Kendal district.

And… 1901 has son John Martindale, aged 9, born Hawkshead. No birth as Martindale or Mitchell. BUT 1891 has John T Martindale, aged 6… and no, he isn’t dead in 1901! He’s living in Over Staveley with uncle William Martindale (Thomas’s older brother).

The Blands

Gill Bank, Over Staverley (Thomas Martindale’s birthplace) gives no clues in 1891, but in 1901, a Jonathan Gilpin Bland (33) and family were living there.

Vickers Bland was Vickers Tyson Bland. Dad John, mother Sarah.

No sign of a marriage, but at 20, a Sarah Tyson of Kentmere had a brother Vickers.

In 1891 the Blands were at Kentmere. 1901 and 1911 High Howe, Bampton.

Now, Thomas Martindale senior called a son Tyson. Suggesting a family connection – but not an obvious one.

Troutbeck Park Farm

The newspapers couldn’t decide if the family who looked after Thomas Martindale were called Leek, Leak, or Leck.

1901 and 1911 show John Leak, farmer, and wife Agnes, at Troutbeck Park Farm, Windermere. There are sons William and John (and a daughter Annie),  either of whom could have been the son who found Thomas Martindale, hungry and wet.

Troutbeck Park famously came up for sale in 1923, and was under threat of development, To save it as a working farm, it was bought by Beatrix Heelis – better know as Beatrix Potter. When she died in 1943, it was left to the National Trust. 

Calling any relatives!

Cumbrian author John Little has contacted Cumbrian Characters to say:

I write novels on mostly Cumbrian subjects, Thomas Martindale and his adventure on the fells is interesting me as a possible subject. I was wondering if there are any members of his family around who might know more about his life subsequent to 1907- particularly what he was doing 1914-18. I would be glad to hear from them if there are.

You can see John’s author page here. And email him via: